professionalism


This sure applies to writing:

… that while I can write for weeks straight, I can’t do that with large-scale editing (as in dealing with plot, sub-plot and the like). My brain just shuts down until it has enough time off.

So it seems editing is the limiting factor as to how productive I can be.

I’ve read books on writing productivity, any ideas (or books you recommend) on editing? Because this is starting to bother me.

Double Consciousness is hosting an Erase Racism Carnival, which led me to write this. Here’s why.

Two years and change ago, I wrote my first novel. While I was trying to edit it, I realized that my protagonist was severely prejudiced towards the majority (this is set three hundred years in the future; the majority happen to be psychic). This got me thinking about prejudice issues, and my research led me into racism (our majority issue) and how it affects people.

Over the last two years I’ve had my pale butt handed to me more times than I care to count, but in all this I’ve learned a few things. Namely, a start on how you as a white writer might not get it wrong.

(If you’re not white, please drop a note as to what I got right/wrong. I’m still learning.)

This is why you get it wrong:

1. Your prejudice hurts people. It hurts your writing.

When you believe all Blacks are poor criminals, all Asians are super-smart kung-fu masters, all ‘Hispanics’ (a loaded term in itself) are lazy or illegally here, then your actions will follow. Clutching your purse or wallet when a certain race person walks past, putting too high (or too low) expectations on a young child, denying someone a job or refusing to welcome them to your home … when you turn that around and imagine it done to you or your children … it hurts.

And it hurts your writing. When everyone in your stories are white, when the only ‘ethnic’ person dies in the first third, when you write racial stereotypes or make the villain ‘dark’, your prejudice shows. You lose readers. Your stories don’t ring true to life.

“But I don’t do that!” you protest. “I’m colorblind! I don’t see race, I just treat everyone the same!”

2. Your privilege blinds you.

What is white privilege? You can look at that link (or Google it), but the basic idea is that in America, if you’re white:

  • you don’t have to prove you’re a good person
  • you were preferentially treated by everyone from your kindergarten teacher on
  • you don’t have to think about race, because being white is a given.

The word privilege trips people up. I can hear you now … “But I earned everything I got! I waited in line like everyone else! No one gave me anything!”

The problem is that you don’t know your history. Do some research.

I said your privilege blinds you. Meaning that you don’t see it, by definition.

If you say that you don’t see race (aka ‘colorblind’), you are not only avoiding your own feelings on the matter, but you’re saying that this person in front of you is really just a white person with dark skin.

Would you like it, white person, if someone said you weren’t a white person, just a black person with light skin? It would negate your upbringing, your culture, your whole experience and life up to now. It would say you were lying about who you are.

That’s the other pitfall in ‘colorblind’ — it blinds you to what makes a person of another race unique. You’re just as handicapped as a person who’s literally blind. Perhaps more so, as yours (and mine — I don’t claim to be over this) is a handicap of the mind.

Read the links I’ve provided, they’re a good start. Then start reading blogs you don’t normally read. Ones by non-white writers are a good place to start. Don’t know of any? Google is your friend.

If you’re anything like I was, you have a long road ahead of you. But just maybe when your dream of being published comes true, you won’t have gotten it wrong.

Something (which I’ll go into later) reminded me of this article:

As essential as change is to renew life, most of us resist it and cling rigidly to old survival systems because they are familiar and “seem” safer. In reality, even if an old, obsolete survival system makes us feel alone, isolated, fearful, uninspired, unappreciated, and unloved, we will reason that it’s easier to cope with what we know than with what we haven’t yet experienced. As a result, most of us will fight to sustain destructive relationships, unchallenging jobs, unproductive work, harmful addictions, unhealthy environments, and immature behavior long after there is any sign of life or value in them.

This unyielding commitment to old, exhausted survival systems that have outlived their usefulness, and resistance to the rejuvenating energy of new, evolving levels of existence and consciousness is what I refer to as the fatal flaw of character.

The FATAL FLAW is a struggle within a character to maintain a survival system long after it has outlived its usefulness.

It’s a good article; go read it.

The precipitating event to remembering this piece, though, came from a cycle from real life:

  • I take on too much
  • I procrastinate
  • As a result, all (figurative) hell breaks loose close to deadlines.

I gotta stop doing this. It’s one of my many fatal flaws, which is going to come back to bite me if and when I ever try to get a book published.

This time turned out better because this time I saw what happened and took steps to prevent the usual multi-faceted meltdown: I backed out of two things where my contribution wasn’t vital, and I quit procrastinating on the two things that only I can do.

In a week or so we’ll see if that was good enough.

Today we have a treat: multi-published author Holly Lisle, sharing her advice on writing.

Everyday Courage and the Writer

© by Holly Lisle

All Rights Reserved

Back when I was attending a fair number of conventions and signing a decent number of books, I came up with a saying which I attributed to my Hoos headhunters from the Arhel books, and called a Hoos proverb. It was, “Courage is nothing more than taking one step more than you think you can.”

Neither the proverb nor the sentiment are particularly original, but I have no idea who said the words first, or how he might have said them. I do know the words are true. Courage has nothing to do with feeling or not feeling fear, with doing great deeds (though sometimes courage accomplishes great deeds), or with conquering life-and-death situations (though in such situations it is certainly helpful.)

Courage is a form of tenaciousness, a refusal to quit when you want to quit because you’re tired or humiliated or broken, and it is as necessary in everyday life as it is in moments of great upheaval. In fact, I could easily say that everyday courage is more important than the ‘great deeds’ sort, because every one of us will be in everyday situations, while not all of us will be called upon in our lifetimes to perform great deeds.

Courage is as essential to the writer as oxygen, no more and no less. The writer who lacks courage will never succeed.

And you’re saying, “That’s silly. I can’t think of a safer sort of work.”

Really? Think again.

Let me define what writing is for you. You’re going to attempt to sell the products of your mind to a world that doesn’t care right now whether you breathe or not. You’re going to strip your soul naked and parade it in front of editors and agents, publishers and eventually—if you’re persistent and lucky and talented—readers. You’re going to say “What I carry around inside my head is so interesting, so compelling, so riveting, that you, the agent, are going to want to risk your reputation with editors for being a shrewd judge of talent to present the products of my fancy to them; and that you, the editor, are going to want to put your career on the line to fight to bring my imaginings to press; and that you, the publisher are going to want to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars presenting these imaginings to a world that has never heard of me; and that you, the reader, are going to want to put your hard-earned money on the line so that I can tell you a story that will give you nothing tangible.”

While you are reaching out to editors, agents and publishers, you’re going to fail. Over and over and over again, you are going to send things out and they are going to come back with impersonal rejection notices, with no notices at all, with the occasional signed memo that “This isn’t for us.” You are going to stare at your words and sit in a darkened room and wonder, “What the hell is the matter with me?” You are going to take the rejections personally, are going to hurt, are going to bleed. Agents will turn you down, editors will turn you down, places that don’t even pay for stories will turn you down.

So say you have courage. Say you go on, and you take one step more than you think you can, and then one step more after that, and then one step more after that. Eventually you will sell something. You’ll get paid. You’ll ‘succeed.’ Your story or your book will enter the marketplace, and maybe you’ll do well with it, or maybe you won’t. In either case, let’s say you keep going. You sell again.

Even though you’ve succeeded, you’re going to fail some more. You’ll get hostile reviews. Letters from people who don’t think you can write. Comments from critics questioning your talent, your vocation, your species. These will, if you’re lucky, come interspersed with glowing reviews, a nice sell-through, an offer from your editor to buy the next thing you’re doing, but don’t think for a minute that the good things will offset the pain of the bad. They run in parallel courses, these good and bad responses, and they don’t touch each other’s worlds at all. I’m always delighted by the good reviews, always hurt by the bad ones.

But go on. You take another few steps, and these seem easier. You do more books, find an audience, settle into a flow. You discover one of the ugly facts of success—that there are people who you thought were your friends who were only your friends when you were failing. Now that you have, in their eyes, reached success, you have become the enemy. A target. They want to see you fall down, because when you are standing, you make them feel their own failures more.

You leave the false friends behind. You keep writing, keep selling, get fan mail, generate some nice reviews, make guest appearances at conventions, become (as much as any writer ever does) a celebrity in your field. And somewhere along the way you realize that you want to stretch your wings. Try something you haven’t tried before. You write this new thing, and your fans hate it because it’s different, and your editor takes a beating, and your publisher loses money, and all of a sudden you’re in a precarious position. You have to decide—pursue the new course and take chances, or stagnate in the old thing that has become popular and that is starting to feel like a prison. Or find some third writing course.

All along the way, you’ve had to face the certainty of various sorts of failure. You’ve been embarrassed by your family, who does not understand why you must do this ridiculous thing. You’ve felt pain and rejection and worthlessness. You’ve had your soul and your talent and your hope stepped on, and you’ve cried your share of private tears, and you’ve kept up a brave face in public more than you’ll ever admit. Even when you succeed by your own definition of success, whatever that might be, you will continue to struggle, and you will never leave the struggle behind. Every story and every book is another chance to fail just exactly as much as it is another chance to succeed. Every new level of success raises the bar higher, making failure more public and more painful … and more likely. Every day is a challenge, and every day requires courage.

I’ve learned this about writing—if you will not put yourself in a position to fail, you cannot succeed. The two are as inseparably linked as breathing in is linked to breathing out. You cannot have one without the other, though you can live a safe life and have neither.

Courage is standing at the bottom of the mountain, knowing that the climb is going to hurt like hell and that you might never reach the top, and climbing anyway. Courage is saying “One more step. Just one more step,” when hands and knees and heart are bleeding. Courage is saying that you might let yourself quit tomorrow, but that you’re going to hang in today, just for now… and not telling your tired, hurting self that the next day is always today, and the next moment is always now.

What about my climb? I’ve done my share of falling, and I have the scars to show for it. It seems like there’s as much mountain above me as there ever was, though when I look back, I can see that I’ve covered a surprising amount of ground, every bit of it one step at a time. I still don’t know what the view from the top is like. I do know what the view from the first ledge above the treeline is like, though, and it’s been worth the climb so far. I’m still working my way up the mountain, because what you can see from up here is nothing you can even get pictures of in the valley where it’s safe. Part of the beauty, I think, comes from having survived the pain. Part of the elation, too. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be any fun.

This is the world of writing, and it is the only world of writing. Every writer climbs the same mountain, though we all climb it by our own path. You can make this climb. It takes courage, but it only takes the sort of courage everybody can have—the courage not to quit when quitting would be the easy thing to do. You will not be called on to perform heroics—to leap into burning buildings or lift cars or fling yourself into the midst of a shark feeding frenzy to save a drowning child. All you have to do is take one more step. Remember to keep your head up, brush the dirt off your face and pick the gravel out of your palms when you fall, and know that every other person who climbed the mountain has done the same thing.

Good luck in your climb. My wish for you is this: May you have the courage to fail, because it is the courage to succeed.

More by Holly Lisle.

John Scalzi gives his kinda-annual talk about money.

I made $164,000 last year from my writing. I’ve averaged more than $100,000 in writing income for the last ten years, which means, for those of you who don’t want to bother with the math, that I’ve made more than a million dollars from my writing in the last decade. In 2000, I wrote a book on finance, The Rough Guide to Money Online. For several years I wrote personal finance newsletters for America Online. When I do corporate consulting, it’s very often been for financial services companies like Oppenheimer Funds, US Trust and Warburg Pincus. I mention this to you so that you know that when I offer you, the new, aspiring and dewey-eyed writer, the following entirely unsolicited advice about money, you’ll know I’m not talking entirely out of my ass.

A great read.

Not too bad. 🙂

This novel_in_90 group on LiveJournal has been just what I needed to get going again.

One thing I like about it is that you HAVE to write, EVERY day. No breaks, but then it’s not a huge amount, just 750 words. For undisciplined me, it’s been a good thing.

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